2009 Saab 9-3 Review

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Trevor Wild Trevor Wild Author
July 11, 2009

Despite rather conservative styling, the 2009 Saab 9-3 is one of the boldest performers in its class.

To bring you this inclusive review on the 2009 Saab 9-3, editors scoured the Web for input and insight from reviewers and combined them with their own firsthand driving impressions, so you can feel confident that you have all the information.

The Saab 9-3 is a roomy compact model that borders on mid-size, despite the fact that it's now the smallest model in Saab's lineup. The 9-3 comes in sedan and versatile wagon (SportCombi) body styles, as well as a convertible.

The 2009 Saab 9-3 comes in two models: base and Aero. A 210-horsepower, 2.0-liter turbocharged inline four-cylinder engine propels the base model, while the high-performance Aero model gets a 280-hp, 2.8-liter turbocharged V-6 engine (the figures represent a new boost in horsepower for 2009). At the top of the range is the Turbo X model, which brings a stronger, 280-hp version of the turbo V-6 and an all-wheel-drive system. Both models come with a six-speed manual transmission, with an automatic transmission optional on each: five-speed for the base, six-speed for the Aero. For 2009, Saab's XWD all-wheel-drive system is optional on 2.0T models.

Saab's electronic limited-slip differential manages power from side to side to help maintain grip and poise in very enthusiastic on-the-road driving. For 2009, it's standard on the Aero V-6 XWD, as well as the Turbo X.

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A lowered sport-tuned suspension is added to the 2009 Saab 9-3 Aero models to take advantage of the added power, and the Turbo X gets an even more aggressive setup, along with upgraded brakes, Y-rated tires, and rear body leveling. Inside, it also garners carbon-fiber trim and a different steering-wheel design, and it's available in only Jet Black Metallic.

Handling is a strong suit; the 9-3 has better steering than most front-wheel-drive sport sedans, with good road feel, and the 9-3 feels more agile and tossable than most cars its size. The base model of the 2009 Saab 9-3 has a firm ride that's absorbent enough for driving on rough, urban highways, but the Aero models have a stiffer tuning that's less comfortable and transmits some coarser surfaces as road noise.

Inside, the 2009 Saab 9-3 models have Saab's traditionally stark appearance, which was spiced up a bit with an interior redesign for 2007. Nice, well-bolstered seats bring an upright driving position with a good view outward, but the backseat is very cramped and lacks the legroom necessary for adults. The trunk, however, is quite spacious.

In the 9-3 SportCombi wagon, the 60/40-split backseats fold forward to create a large, continuous space for cargo. A hidden, underfloor storage area provides added room for valuables.

The often-overlooked 2009 Saab 9-3 Convertible has an especially roomy trunk, yet it can stow away its soft top in just 20 seconds. The 9-3 Convertible remains one of TheCarConnection.com's favorite convertibles for practical everyday driving and cruising.

The 9-3 achieves only middle-of-the-road four-star results for frontal and side impact in the federal government's tests. It is, however, rated "good" in all of the insurance-affiliated IIHS tests. Electronic stability control is standard on all 2009 Saab 9-3 models, as are active head restraints, front side airbags, and side-curtain bags for outboard passengers.

The options list on the 2009 Saab 9-3 is quite short but includes a navigation system and a Cold Weather Package of headlamp washers and heated seats. The options list is brief in part because the standard features list is long; even base 9-3 models come equipped as luxury cars, with most commonly expected conveniences standard. Aero models add upgraded leather sport seats, xenon cornering headlamps, a moonroof, fog lamps, and a Bose Centerpoint surround-sound system. New for 2009 is upgraded OnStar 8.0, which includes turn-by-turn navigation and Bluetooth.


2009 Saab 9-3


The 2009 Saab 9-3 is a good-looking vehicle that stands out from the pack.

Editors at TheCarConnection.com find that the 2009 Saab 9-3 has styling that sets it apart from the pack. It doesn't, however, stand out much from last year's model.

The 2009 Saab 9-3 Sedan receives only minor exterior touches. Vestiges of the last major redesign, then, are alive and well in the '09 version. The New York Times notes the "radical new front and rear-end redesign," which Kelley Blue Book finds "distinctively fresh." Autoblog feels it's "a handsome face for Saab." Edmunds cites its "distinct Scandinavian charm—refreshing break from the mainline aesthetic." Car and Driver, concurs, reporting that "the new face does what every freshening hopes to accomplish—make the old car look seriously dated."

In general, reviewers cheers the interior. Autoblog appreciates "a simpler interface with less buttons than recent Saabs we remember." Inside, the Turbo X model gets carbon-fiber trim and a different steering-wheel design, and it comes in only Jet Black Metallic.

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2009 Saab 9-3


The 2009 Saab 9-3 line now has exciting all-around performance, though it's still not edgy.

With increased power and a new all-wheel-drive system now available throughout the line, the 2009 Saab 9-3 has bold performance that outdoes its handsome but not overt appearance.

The four-cylinder engine in the base 2.0T trim serves up 210 horsepower and 221 pound-feet of torque in an efficient, refined, and responsive manner. ConsumerGuide considers 2.0T models to be "fairly quick, but launch response is dulled by turbo lag. Passing reserves are impressive, though." Edmunds finds that the engine delivers "a healthy pull throughout" its powerband, yet "performance is nothing special for this class."

The uplevel Aero trim produces 280 hp (up for 2009 from 255) and 258 lb-ft of torque at a low 2,000 rpm. Most reviewers agree this engine motivates the 9-3 with significantly more vigor than the base engine. MyRide.com attests this engine delivers its thrust "smoothly and quietly." Kelley Blue Book comments that the "Aero's V6 feels more effortless," and ConsumerGuide remarks the "Aero's V6 feels stronger from a stop and furnishes better passing response. They have little turbo lag."

Both models come with a six-speed manual transmission, with an automatic transmission optional on each: five-speed for the base, six-speed for the Aero. The transmissions offer some disappointments. The automatic transmissions can be reluctant with downshifts in D, says Edmunds, and Kelley Blue Book agrees, noting the automatic "suffers a bit of downshifting." Car and Driver complains that the "manual's shifter still feels as if it were attached to the transmission with ropes." All-wheel drive is available on the Turbo X model; with plenty of torque available just above idle, the turbo V-6 feels especially fast, but torque steer can be an issue with either of the engines, so the all-wheel drive is welcome. Saab's electronic rear limited-slip differential is now standard on the Aero V-6, and the XWD all-wheel-drive system is optional on 2.0T models for 2009.

The 9-3's road manners are decent and more athletic in the tighter-suspended Aero and Turbo X models, which get a lowered sport-tuned suspension to take advantage of the added power. Edmunds indicates that "Aeros can be pushed vigorously into curves, remaining impressively flat and centered," and Kelley Blue Book states that "confident handling is the rule." The Turbo X gets an even more aggressive setup, along with upgraded brakes, Y-rated tires, and rear body leveling. Many reviewers complain of overly light steering in base cars, though ConsumerGuide finds it "precise." Still, the 9-3 doesn't reach the heights of its German competition: "Even with its newfound grip and power," says Edmunds about the 2009 Saab 9-3 Aero XWD, it "isn't hard-edged enough to be considered a true sport sedan or sport wagon."

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2009 Saab 9-3

Comfort & Quality

The 2009 Saab 9-3 has good seats and ergonomics, but materials are mediocre compared to most cars in the same price range.

Experts at TheCarConnection.com find that the 2009 Saab 9-3 has some nice points, but is less than perfect when it comes to some details.

Edmunds states "the Saab 9-3's cabin offers decent ergonomics and very comfortable front seats." Up front, ConsumerGuide appreciates that "comfortable seats provide good all-around support. The 9-3's standard tilt and telescopic steering column helps tailor a comfortable driving position, though the tallest drivers might want it to go higher and may wish for more rearward seat travel." Kelley Blue Book describes the seats in Aero models as "seriously sporty."

In the rear, "backseat headroom and toe space are abundant," offers Cars.com, "but legroom suffers if the front seat is adjusted rearward. The center occupant must endure a high, hard perch and straddle a tall floor hump." ConsumerGuide notes "good head clearance" but warns that "knee space in sedans...is disappointingly tight if the front seats are set far back. The same goes for foot space if the front seats aren't elevated." ConsumerGuide judges sedans to have "a tall trunk with considerable volume."

Ergonomics and space efficiency generally garner respect, but materials, fit, and finish draw some jeers, as do overall levels of refinement. Edmunds contends "the cabin is attractive at a glance, particularly with the two-tone leather option, but closer inspection reveals low-quality plastics and inconsistent fit and finish." As for sound dampening, "any 9-3 has more tire noise than the class norm," points out ConsumerGuide. All seem to like the Saab's unique center-mounted ignition key, and Kelley Blue Book admires the instrument cluster, which they feel "was clearly developed for easy and helpful reading."

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2009 Saab 9-3


The 2009 Saab 9-3 is a good overall pick for safety, with impressive but not perfect crash-test scores.

The 2009 Saab 9-3 scores mixed ratings from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), but it's been a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) for several years running. In NHTSA testing, the 9-3 sedan scores four out of five stars across the board, with the exception of side impact protection for the driver, where it scores the top five of five stars.
MyRide.com notes the 9-3's "crash-resistant structure and features" that help it garner IIHS Top Safety Pick status. Edmunds explains that this award is "based on its 'Good' ratings (the highest possible) in the agency's frontal-offset crash, side-impact crash and head-restraint effectiveness tests."

"A long list of standard safety equipment includes seat-mounted side-impact airbags, side curtain airbags, Active Head Restraints, traction control, and an electronic stability system with all-disc antilock brakes and electronic brake-force distribution," reports Cars.com. Moving up a level, Aero models are equipped with slightly larger disc brakes for greater stopping ability to match their sportier driving abilities.

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2009 Saab 9-3


The 2009 Saab 9-3 is competitively equipped and covers most of the bases.

The 2009 Saab 9-3 offers a range of features and amenities that will please most drivers.

Mechanically, even the base 2.0T model comes well equipped for its intended mission. "Rain-sensing windshield wipers, and a built-in tire-pressure monitoring system" are included, comments MyRide.com. Kelley Blue Book likes the sport button on the automatic transmission, finding it "keeps the transmission in each gear long enough to boost responses smartly," but discovers it works better with the base engine.

Widely praised is the XWD system, which is now standard on all 2.0T models for 2009. Calling the system's operation "compelling," Autoblog remarks that "the genius is that the system does all this in 80 milliseconds, long before the rear wheel on the low-grip side even hits the icy patch." It normally "sends more than 90 percent of engine power to the front wheels. Under acceleration or in low-grip situations, the system's electronic brain sends torque rearward to enhance traction," states Edmunds. The system may also be combined with an eLSD (electronic limited slip differential) for the rear, which increases the 9-3's abilities in poor traction even further. Electronic limited slip differential is standard on the Aero V-6 XWD for 2009.

In the realm of convenience and electronics, XM Satellite Radio and GM's OnStar have been made standard for 2009. MyRide.com notes that "a hot Bose 11-speaker sound system" is a big draw, and they mention the optional Profiler system, which "consists of a set of steering wheel-mounted controls and a 6.5-inch-wide color display screen at the top center of the instrument panel" that has readings for most functions such as climate control, clock, and vehicle speed. This option, as well as the rest of the dash lighting, may be turned off completely with the exception of the speedometer, a feature Saab has offered for years. Also optional are a DVD-based navigation system and a moonroof, and 2009 brings the updated OnStar 8.0, with turn-by-turn navigation and Bluetooth.

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